Tona Hangen: Don't Touch that Dial
In the 1980s, when televangelists dominated both the airwaves and the tabloid headlines, many journalists treated the phenomenon as though televangelism had simply popped out of the sky just in time to be the scandal du jour. Not so, says Tona Hangen, a lecturer in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University. Instead, the controversial TV preachers were the latest manifestation of a very successful tradition of conservative Protestant leaders embracing modern media-a tradition that began in the 1920s with the newfangled medium of radio. 'Without radio evangelism, televangelism would never have developed the way it did,' claims Hangen.
In her debut book, Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America (Univ. of North Carolina, Oct. 28), Hangen demonstrates that evangelical radio preachers such as Paul Rader, Aimee Semple McPherson and Charles Fuller set the stage for the later flamboyant televangelists. Because conservative Christians were denied 'sustaining time' when radio was first regulated by the FCC, they had to become commercial broadcasters while mainline Protestants and some Catholics had access to free, state-sponsored time on the air. By the 1950s, says Hangen, these evangelical entrepreneurs had become adept at hooking loyal audiences and doing on-air fundraising, utilizing modern technology, ironically enough, to promote an old-fashioned revivalist gospel. 'Evangelical radio preachers quickly understood what it was that made their ministry attractive, and created what we would now call a 'branded style,' ' Hangen explains. 'It was an early and particularly successful form of religious niche marketing.'
Hangen's study, which began as her dissertation at Brandeis University, challenges a long-held assumption that many scholars have promulgated about 20th-century evangelicals-that they withdrew into their own insular world after the disastrous 1925 Scopes trial. 'This period from the 1920s to the 1950s is when evangelicals and fundamentalists are supposed to be retreating from public discourse, and yet my study shows that they did precisely the opposite. Instead, they were actively pursuing access to the new national voice of radio,' says Hangen. She adds: 'I make an effort to understand what audiences made of this new radio religion, and the extent to which radio changed personal devotional practice.'
Many of the listeners believed that the unique gift of radio was its simultaneity; they felt intimately connected to the preacher, to the studio audience, and to each other across the miles. Radio also allowed them to forge coalitions beyond the boundaries of region and denomination. 'Radio permitted evangelicals to imagine themselves as part of a national community,' Hangen notes.
Hangen chose the University of North Carolina Press because of its strong commitment to interdisciplinary studies. 'It was important to me that this would not be pigeonholed as only a religious history book, but also [classified as] a media studies book and a study of American culture. At UNC, it would have multiple identities even within the press,' she says.
According to Gina Mahalek, director of publicity, the press plans to supplement its usual publicity efforts to religious and scholarly publications with an extensive campaign to radio stations. 'Radio is a natural medium for promoting this book,' says Mahalek, noting that particular efforts will be made in Chicago and Los Angeles, where Rader, Fuller and McPherson were most active. To enhance radio interviews, Hangen has compiled an audio CD of short sermons and excerpts from evangelical radio programs.
Hangen hopes her book will encourage scholars of religion to perceive the long history of religion and media, and media historians to recognize the importance of evangelical religion to the development of commercial broadcasting. 'What religions do to get their message out has a history,' says Hangen. 'It's part of American culture, and we need to understand that now more than ever.' -- Jana Reiss
Donald Lopez: Assembling a Buddhist Canon
It was the 1970s, and to the Western eyes of many college students of the era, a fresh yet perennial wisdom was flowing from the East. Donald S. Lopez Jr. was one of the seekers, entering the stream of Buddhism when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
'Many of us were looking to the East for alternatives in terms of philosophy,' says Lopez, now professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies at University of Michigan. Among the 21 books Lopez has authored, edited or translated is Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Univ. of Chicago, 1998), which won the 1999 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion.
Lopez began his college career as a philosophy major and first encountered Eastern thought through a course entitled 'Chinese Philosophy before 618 A.D.' His interest grew, his major changed and he took course after course in Asian religions. He also committed himself to learning some of the relevant languages.
Knowing the languages-and knowing the value of knowing them-is a dividing line in modern American Buddhism. On one side are Buddhists who emphasize practice, by which they usually mean meditation. Their meditation cushions are often, though not exclusively, positioned in the everyday world outside the academy. On the other side of the ivy-covered divide are scholars of texts, generally university professors. Yet the line is certainly permeable. 'So many people of my generation wanted to become enlightened and ended up becoming scholars,' says Lopez.
The prolific author's newest book, A Modern Buddhist Bible: Essential Readings from East and West (Beacon, Nov.) stems from what he characterizes as fascination with 'the possibility of conversation between the Buddhist scholar and the modern American Buddhist,' he explains.
From his perspective as a Buddhologist, Lopez sees American/Western Buddhists and academic Buddhists using two different reading lists. The Modern Buddhist Bible is an attempt to articulate a common canon for both kinds of Buddhists. (It was first published as Modern Buddhism: Readings for the Unenlightened by Penguin U.K. in July.) First serial rights for The Modern Buddhist Bible went to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, with advertising scheduled there. Lopez will be speaking about Buddhism on a panel on cultural history November 23 during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Toronto.
Modern American Buddhism, says Lopez, can be considered a sect of Buddhism, with a history, lineage and doctrines of a sort-emphasis on individual enlightenment, a major role for lay people, acceptance of women and other distinctive teachings. The earliest modern writers on Buddhism in the West, among them the Theosophist Helena Blavatsky, were part of a very small network, all knowing or reading one another. That familiarity stretches over decades in the 20th century, and Lopez's Bible contains writings from Buddhist household names: the Beat writers, D.T. Suzuki, Thich Nhat Hanh, Alan Watts. 'American Buddhism has enough history that one can go back and identify its roots,' says Lopez, who is now busy working on four more books. -- Marcia Z. Nelson
Mary Jo Weaver: St. Teresa and Her Women
Mary Jo Weaver is no stranger to academia's 'publish or perish' mindset. After teaching religious studies for 30 years at Indiana University, she's amassed a body of scholarly work that includes titles on feminists in the American Catholic Church, (New Catholic Women, published by Indiana University Press in 1984 and 1994; Springs of Water in a Dry Land, published by Beacon Press in 1992) and the different wings of American Catholicism (IU Press published Weaver's and Scott Appleby's Being Right: Conservative American Catholics in 1995 and Weaver's What's Left?: Liberal American Catholics in 1999).
When the professor decided a few years ago to write a history of an Indianapolis building that had captured her imagination-a Carmelite monastery that looks like a medieval castle-she didn't have any plans to produce a scholarly work. She wanted simply to do a short, in-house document for the community of nuns who live there. But Weaver ended up with much more than an architectural account. Cloister and Community: Life within a Carmelite Monastery, published in September by Indiana University Press, weaves together the stories of the 70-year-old building, the 11 Roman Catholic sisters who currently live there, and their 16th century spiritual mentor, St. Teresa of Avila. 'For this book, there was no pressure,' says Weaver, 'It was just something I wanted to do, to try to understand Teresa of Avila and these women and the confluence between them.'
For years, Weaver has taught about Teresa of Avila in her classes on spiritual autobiography and Western mystical texts and spirituality. She's also known the Carmelite sisters of Indianapolis for more than two decades, so the sisters were glad she wanted to write about their home. They gave her access to their archives, and 64 of their photos appear throughout the book.
While Weaver was doing her research, the sisters hired a development director and launched a Web site-www.praythenews.com. Weaver realized then that the real story was about more than the building. As their Web site gained recognition and the sisters offered weekly reflections on events and issues in the news, Weaver decided to write about how members of the cloistered Carmelite order-who used to 'leave the world' in order to find a sacred space-now consider the world itself sacred, and see their cloistered, prayerful lifestyle as a way to be in it and respond to its needs. Says Weaver, 'I assume people know nothing about the Carmelites and nothing about Teresa.' About the Carmelite reformer, Weaver says: 'She's fun because she's just got amazing chutzpah.'
Indiana University Press initially was interested in the project because it fit into their Indiana History series. But because of the sisters' Web site and their appearances on venues like the Today show and CNN, 'we think there'll be a number of lay people interested in reading about their history, as well as academics interested in the issue of women and spirituality,' says Marilyn Breiter, marketing manager.
While university presses often rely on overseas printers to keep costs down, Cloister and Community got special treatment. 'The book was printed by a company in Indianapolis that loves the sisters,' Breiter says. The designer was also a friend of the nuns, Weaver says. 'It's an absolutely beautiful book,' she notes. Now the sisters are helping out with sales-the book is available on their Web site. -- Heather Grennan
Leigh Eric Schmidt and Edwin S. Gaustad: Student and Mentor
The great scholar could see brilliance in the undergraduate. The young man possessed discipline and a mind that was 'alert and interested in the wide, wide world of scholarship.' The student took five classes-more than one a semester-under the teacher and chose to pursue the same field, American religious and cultural history.
The professor advised the young man on graduate school-Princeton, where he got his doctorate in 1987. Five years ago, the now-retired teacher decided it was time to update one of his classic histories, primarily a textbook, first published in 1966. He thought of his star student, now a distinguished professor and writer on the opposite side of the continent.
'I was growing inexorably older, and the other factor was that he was simply the brightest undergraduate that I had ever taught,' says Edwin S. Gaustad, history professor emeritus at the University of California in Riverside. 'I wanted to snare him if he could be snared.' Leigh Eric Schmidt, Princeton University religion professor, agreed to serve as principal writer on the project. 'He gave me a lot of latitude in the revisions,' says Schmidt of his old teacher, and was 'incredibly generous' when another author might have been more wedded to an original vision.
The result of the cross-generational collaboration is The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today (Harper San Francisco, Oct.), rewritten to speak to a new generation of readers and marketed as both a textbook for colleges and seminaries and a general trade book for armchair historians.
Schmidt says the original book, which he had used for his classes, was already forward-looking and unusually good on religious pluralism, though it still gave the sense of a Protestant narrative. His reworking makes it more 'multiply centered,' he says. Schmidt takes particular pride in the 112 illustrations, which depict religion in practice as well as offering the traditional portraits of luminaries. 'There's a kind of visual narrative alongside the written narrative,' he notes. 'I didn't want the illustrations to merely be adornments. They're actually part of the story.'
HSF constantly revives its backlist, says editor-in-chief John Loudon, but the books usually don't undergo such a complete transformation. 'We wanted to do not just an updating. We wanted to do a total rewriting,' Loudon says. (Similarly, Huston Smith's star student, Philip C. Novak, a professor at Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif., is redoing the Buddhism chapter from Smith's standard The World's Religions, first published in 1958, as a separate HSF book for March 2003.)
Loudon says the targeted general audience for the The Religious History of America includes those who like 'expert but readable' American history books by such authors as David McCullough, Joseph Ellis and Garry Wills. 'You're going to hear a lot about Leigh Schmidt. He's going to be a superstar,' Loudon predicts. Schmidt also wrote Holy Fairs (Princeton Univ., 1990; Wm. B. Eerdmans paper, 2001), Consumer Rites (Princeton, 1995, paper 1997), and Hearing Things (Harvard, 2000, paper 2002).
HSF plans a national broadcast and print media campaign for The Religious History of America, and is promoting it to religion and church history professors. Gaustad and Schmidt are scheduled for an HSF-sponsored panel on 'Revisioning North American Religious History' on November 25 in Toronto during the AAR/SBL annual meeting. (The other panelists are Robert A. Orsi of Harvard, who is AAR president-elect, Diana Eck of Harvard, Richard W. Fox of the University of Southern California, Pamela Klassen of the University of Toronto, and David Chidester of the University of Cape Town.)
Gaustad, like his former student, describes the experience of refashioning the book as a pleasant one. 'It was a happy relationship, which is not always the case when one is working with one or more coauthors.' Gaustad is currently writing a biography of Benjamin Franklin for an Oxford University Press series for young adults, American Portraits. It will be his third book for that line, following a volume on church-state relations and a biography of Roger Williams.
Schmidt is on leave this year and living in Boston while working on a Lilly Endowment-funded research project on the history of spirituality in American culture. He's also in the early stages of writing a book for HSF on the making of that spirituality, which he estimates will be out in two or three years. -- Juli Cragg Hilliard